Clint Dempsey came up with a stoppage-time equaliser to salvage a 1-1 draw for Tottenham against Manchester United at White Hart Lane. United appeared to have done enough to claim the three points courtesy of Robin van Persie's first-half header but there was Dempsey to level things up late on.
The game almost failed to go ahead due to the adverse weather conditions in London. But the teams produced an absorbing game with a twist. Here's a snap shot of the match...
Andre Villas-Boas had few choices in midfield and attack given the loss of Emmanuel Adebayor, who is away on Africa Cup of Nations duty, and the injured Sandro. At least he had the fit-again Scott Parker to call upon to replace his Brazilian enforcer. That left much of the tinkering to be done at the back and Villas-Boas opted for an all-English back-four with Jan Vertonghen and Benoit Assou-Ekotto sitting it out on the bench.
Sir Alex Ferguson drafted in Phil Jones to play alongside Michael Carrick in a defensively-minded midfield. Wayne Rooney was also omitted in favour of Danny Welbeck as United opted for youthful legs in support of Van Persie. At the back, Ferguson was able to select his long-time first-choice centre-back partnership of captain Nemanja Vidic and veteran Rio Ferdinand.
Spurs often favour playing on the counter attack through the pace of Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon on the flanks. So that was the one thing United were keen to deny the home side. Carrick and Jones played deep and worked hard to double up on the wide players in support of their full-backs. And the visitors elected to give the Lilywhites a taste of their own medicine as they looked to spring Welbeck and Tom Cleverley forward to help Van Persie on the break.
It was a tactic that could have worked but proved ultimately unsuccessful. "On the counter attack we should have finished them off," explained Ferguson after the game. "It was the final ball letting us down and we should have been better than that."
Rooney almost had an immediate impact off the bench when he appeared to have won a penalty after going down under a challenge from Steven Caulker inside the box. But referee Chris Foy was unimpressed and the England international saw little of the ball after that. Likewise Antonio Valencia, who struggled to make an impact despite seemingly well suited to punishing Spurs on the counter attack.
Villas-Boas had fewer options on the bench and could only switch left-backs when he introduced Assou-Ekotto for Kyle Naughton before sparing Parker's legs by turning to Tom Huddlestone late on. Even so, it was Assou-Ekotto who crossed left-footed (Naughton, by contrast, is right footed) in the build-up to the late equaliser so the Portuguese coach may have taken added satisfaction from that.
Ferguson spared his ire for the assistant referee on the basis of an apparent long-term grudge relating to decisions made in a game against Chelsea in years gone by. But it was referee Foy who was culpable for the major decision that went against United when he failed to spot the trip on Rooney despite having a clear view of the incident.
It was Dempsey who found the stoppage-time goal but much of the credit should go to Lennon. The right-winger had caused Patrice Evra real problems on the flank and then had the presence of mind to pick out his team-mate for the crucial equaliser.
Van Persie again showed his quality in front of goal, while Carrick was named man of the match for a composed display in the centre of the pitch. But the central figure in the game was so often David de Gea. It looked like being the Spaniard's day as he pulled off a series of saves but he was left disappointed when he failed to get a strong punch on Assou-Ekotto's cross - allowing that late equaliser.
In conceding a late goal it is perhaps easy to rewrite history and take a negative view of United's defending but for the most part this was a solid backs-to-the-wall effort. Ferguson will be encouraged by the protection offered by Carrick and Jones and believe that if Vidic and Ferdinand can stay fit then he has the players capable of winning the big games that are sure to come.
For Tottenham, Villas-Boas claimed afterwards that the manner of the point could prove a real boost and it is difficult to disagree. Spurs showed they could dominate the team currently top of the table and that confidence could be important in the coming months.